Santa Cruz 2019: Bend Over and We’ll Rock You


The Santa Cruz U.S. Air Guitar Regional Qualifier held on Cinco de Mayo had stiff competition. It was a school night. It was a registered day drinking holiday. And Game of Thrones was being shown on what The Damned call—the Idiot Box.

So we ask the question: If a kick-ass Air Guitar show takes place and no one was there to see it, did it still kick ass?

In the words of Clark Griswold...

Armed with a Lucha Libra mask imported from Oaxaca, a cut-off suit jacket, and his underwear, Dirty Airy took the stage to MC the best most dedicated group of Air Guitar talent since Las Vegas, 2010.

Sunday night began with a merch covered table. All compliments there go to Fan-Air-Nation, who also dove on the opening spot of the night like Captain America in boot camp. Longtime performer and friend of the industry, Sweetness, was quick to volunteer for the second spot, leaving fate to decide the remainder of the field.

To be clear, volunteering to be the first performer in an Air Guitar Competition is like being the first to try that hot sauce your friend bought on the black market: it takes guts.

 And Fan-Air-Nation has guts.


Dressed to impeccably represent Alice Bowie, our brave, beloved Fan-Air-Nation went first and shredded his way to a great crowd reaction. Unfortunately, he caught a low technical mark but still earned decent opening scores that averaged 5.5.

Crowd member turned walk-on contestant, Sweetness played next. He invoked the spirit of William Ocean circa 2008 when his sequence outfit doubled as a disco ball thanks to a crowd provided phone light. Even on a night when he wasn’t prepared to play, Sweetness still managed to make his way into round two and averaged a 5.8.

Dirty then reminded the crowd of twelve that anyone wanting to jump up and try their hand at our craft would be welcomed with open arms. To this, a response came in the form of a young woman, still hung over from Saturday. She strutted to the stage and announced herself to be CinderHELLa How she didn’t puke with all that head banging will be contemplated and discussed for years to come.

Thanks to long hair obscuring her fretwork, CinderHELLa worked a 5.2 from the judges, but reminded me of another 2013 hero—Pops Rockwood, who infamously walked out from the crowd and took the SF qualifier.

Following CinderHELLa, an impromptu, let’s say, “half-time” show took place in the form of two drunk crowdies who were caught having an argument earlier in the evening over who could play AC/DC better.

Always adept at improv, our host Dirty invited this “Sweaty Finger Duo” onto the stage. Dubbing them “Pinky”, and “Pointer,” Dirty allowed the crowd to decide who the better competitor was. Based on audible adoration after the track, Pointer was deemed the winner. Pinky though, would become the MVP of the event by cheering his absolutely obliterated ass off (mostly for himself?) for the remainder of the night.

Back to the competition, Kit-Kat stomped a mud hole into the judges minds and received a resounding 17.8. The host refused to spell out Kit-Kat’s resume on stage, as to not frighten any of the competition, but the scorch mark left in her wake was proof enough: this competition would be Kit’s to lose.

Air Guitar’s most huggable competitor, Mr. Universe, took the stage next. He showed immense improvement from his debut last year, earning a spot in the second round. (Seriously, it’s like squeezing a marshmallow that smiles at you.)

Chewrocka leveled his way into round two with the only thrash metal canvas of the first round.

Next up was the Slug—who lost a bet—and had entered to fulfill his debt to our host Dirty Airy.

As a note to promoters of air guitar: finding talent to fill a roster of a show can be daunting. Convincing someone to do what comes naturally, but performing it in a public venue is difficult.

So here are a few handy tips:

Talk to the friend of an established competitor and convince them that so and so doesn’t think they have what it takes. Yes, this is pure diabolical manipulation—but it totally works.

If the venue gives out drink tickets to performers, offer a free hangover to anyone who will compete.

Case in Point: the Slug had offered to play for Dirty if, and only if, he could get CinderHELLa to play. Hands were shaken, and after congratulating CinderHELLa for agreeing to play, the Slug cursed Dirty’s name—and showed up to play.

Armed with 6 shots of something in his belly, and an unblemished pair of underwear, the Slug got on stage and had the second-best Chippendale’s performance ever seen at an air guitar show (1st place belonging obviously to the host). Debt fulfilled, the Slug joined Pinky in cheering his brains out for the remainder of the event.

Former Santa Cruz Champion and partner of CinderHELLa, Blood Sausage was up next. Although his Kilt-Hawaiian shirt combo hurt the eyes, his chops were on point and he earned a spot in the second round.



The second round featured four genres for performers to choose from: Vintage, Classic, Hard, and Suicidal. All songs featured bands of Latin flavored talent, and Blood Sausage listened to the “Hard” selection. This, of course, was Rage Against the Machine. He then opted to play Suicidal Tendencies, “I Saw Your Mommy.”

After being critiqued, Blood Sausage admitted to not knowing the song, which made the host and most of the judges feel...old. Seriously, it’s Suicidal Tendencies—what the actuallynevermindI’mtoooldtocare.

Following that, Sweetness asked for the “Vintage” selection and refused to preview the track. Instead, he gave a perfectly matched performance to Sleepwalk by Ritchie Valens. This was my moment of the night. If you know Sweetness, you know that this song fits him like a Magnum condom. His pre-loaded cloud of smoke blew out with the first lick, and the crowd will be expecting children around February of next year.

Mr. Universe came out to the “Classic” selection and absolutely nailed Carlos Santana. Another match made in Air Guitar Heaven.

Chewrocka played the previously heard Rage track, and after almost knocking his teeth out chugging a beer during the baseline breakdown, covered his head with his shirt, and performed a blind Tom Morello solo; a feat that will not soon be easily duplicated.

With all four second rounders on the books, the highest scoring Kit-Kat took the stage and requested Suicidal. After her performance, Airness judge, “The Professor,” appropriately made reference to Hot Lixx Hulahan, (as Kit-Kat sported a leather ensemble reminiscent of Craigums' 2006 campaign) before granting yet another 6.0 to give Kit the winning score for the night.

As Freebird commenced, Pinky, and Pointer, (pretty much the only crowd left at this point) were invited on stage to jam along, and here is where the aspect of SPM (Strums Per Minute) comes into play.

During the outro segment of Freebird, (which is actually an edit that cuts the live version into the song as the studio version simply fades and doesn’t work for a crescendo) there is an entire 60-second pummeling of a strum session. After going into engineer mode, and running calculations through Logic, I calculated that the finale of Lynard Skynard’s live performance of Freebird in 1976 carries a pace of 600 SPM and sustains that pace for almost two minutes.

I think I tore my bicep, and afterwards, one of the performers confided that he wasn’t sure the heart monitor he had implanted would keep him alive for the whole song. To be honest, it wouldn’t be a bad way to go.

So here’s to Air Guitar.

May we all perish while playing Freebird—surrounded by people we love.

Written by Dirty Airy

Rob Messel